To raise awareness about violence against women in a creative and artistic manner, students at the University annually perform “The Vagina Monologues.” Eve Ensler’s play has become a powerful part of “V-Day,” the annual celebration of women that takes place on Valentine’s Day. With its raw approach to issues of gender and sexuality in society, “The Vagina Monologues” forces its audience to confront women’s issues in the hope of compelling progress. This year, however, the play’s message is in danger of being lost; many on campus have reacted with fury to an e-mail saying this year’s “Monologues” cast will consist solely of women of color, suggesting the decision is discriminatory and even racist.
But while the director’s decision was short-sighted – the controversy threatens to divide campus and overshadow the message of the play – it was by no means racist. This play is not an attempt to force down white women, an effort to assert colored skin is superior to white skin or an effort to seek revenge against the white majority. It is an ill-conceived attempt to draw attention to the disturbing and overlooked social trend of violence against women of color.
Like all other directors, those directing this interpretation of “The Vagina Monologues” have the artistic license to adapt and produce a show in the image of their own, unique vision. Because the play’s cast has traditionally been overwhelmingly white, the directors and producers felt it failed to address the impact of violence on women of color, a group statistically more likely to suffer from violence. This year’s show, through its all-women-of-color cast, was meant to draw attention to those problems.
Unfortunately, the play is at risk of falling short of that goal. By excluding white women, the directors of the play catalyzed a fierce battle over “reverse discrimination” and political correctness. The campus was supposed to receive this year’s production as a decisive step forward. The campus was supposed to recognize that women of color are disproportionately affected by violence. The campus was supposed to welcome this particular production of “The Vagina Monologues” with open arms. At this point, hope seems lost.
It is true that past productions have marginalized women of color, but completely excluding white women is not the correct response. Instead of explicitly stating that no white women can receive roles, the directors could have simply cast a higher proportion of minorities than white women. Even a cast made up mostly, not exclusively, of minorities could have drawn attention to the plight of women of color. Now, there is a very real danger that the play will lose support and fail entirely, slowing the message that violence against all women should not be tolerated.
While many students have reacted passionately against the “outrageous” decision to cast an all-women-of-color cast, the true outrage is that the unwise decision will obscure the fight against sexual and physical abuse. According to the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study, one in four women is raped during her college career. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that less than 26 percent of all rapes are reported. And less than 2 percent of rapists are ever convicted and imprisoned. These are the central messages of V-Day and “The Vagina Monologues;” this peripheral debate over racism threatens to steal the stage.